Per advice from friends who’ve used the packs, I opted for the 3-piece belt. According to Stone Glacier, it is “designed with a removable lumbar pad enabling the user to add/remove/shape foam to create a fit specifically to their individual lumbar preference.” In addition, the three-piece belt gives the options to tailor the lumbar belt foam thickness to user preference. I haven’t used the standard belt, but I’ve been quite content with my 3-piece and have not had to make any adjustments. I do suspect that the 3-piece belt is the reason that my pack weighs more than the stated weight for the Cirque.
The Cirque 6200 is designed to be used in a couple of different “modes”. For maximum carrying capacity, it’s basically a 6200 cubic inch top loader with a lid and center access zipper and lots of compression straps. In “Bivy Mode,” the pack sheds the eight ounces or so of the lid and has a nicely designed accordion-style compression zone on the top part of the pack that turns it into a very compressible day pack that can still handle a heavy load if needed, since the suspension remains unchanged.
In the Field
I’ve been testing the Cirque 6200 for over a year now, and it’s been my go-to pack for almost every overnight adventure during that time. I started a 3-week ski traverse of the Chugach with it last spring, loaded with winter camping gear, crevasse rescue kit, ski gear, and 12 days of food (food drops were set-up from ski planes for the rest of the trip).
Due to a catastrophic ski failure (see upcoming La Sportiva Vapor Nano review), I had to leave the trip early but I got to spend some time skiing with a heavily-load pack. That same season I also used it for a 7-day self-support ski touring trip that included carrying my packraft, paddle, and PFD for the whole trip, in addition to all of my mountain and camping gear. Then last summer the pack started getting significant time carrying bulky packrafting and whitewater gear in addition to camp and food for several short, fun trips around Alaska. During the fall and early winter, the Cirque 6200 (and it’s Krux-Frame sibling, the Sky 7400) came with me on three different weeklong backpacking hunting trips, and several meat hauling missions. Finally, I’ve had it back in action again this summer for a few packrafting day trips.
Carrying Capacity & Pack Comparisons
For someone who spends a lot of time wearing heavy packs, I generally dislike hiking and backpacking unless I’m walking somewhere to do something like packraft, kayak, ski, or bring home wild game meat. As a result, it’s common for me to carry heavy loads despite trying to use the lightest possible gear and clothing I can get away with.
I’ve used heavy duty external-frame packs (the Frontier Gear Freighter frame being the most notable); heavy internal-load haulers like my old Dana Designs Terraplane or Arcteryx Bora 95; and modular heavy hunting packs from Mystery Ranch. But I’ve also used superlight packs like the Hyperlight Mountain Gear Porter series, the Granite Gear Crown VC 60, and quite a few others, so I feel like I have a decent range of experience carrying heavy or awkward loads with a variety of packs. And the Cirque 6200 (and the Sky 7400) are unique and impressive.
While not quite as comfortable as a heavy, extremely padded (and more cumbersome) external frame pack like the Frontier Gear, with anything short of 100 lbs, the Cirque 6200 is easily as good as anything I’ve used, including the Dana Designs Terraplane (which I consider to be the benchmark for heavy-load carrying in an internal frame pack). The stiff frame, ample waist belt, and nicely contoured shoulder straps combined with the highly customizable fit adjustments provide a good interface between body and pack without any notable hot spots.
I think part of the remarkable carrying capacity is the relatively long frame that extends well above the top of the shoulder straps. In my experience, the most comfortable position for really heavy, dense loads (like 80-100 lbs of meat), is in the middle of the small of my back but above my hips and cinched as closely to my body as possible. On some of the packs I’ve used with shorter frames (Mystery Ranch NICE frame system) or simpler frames (HMG or Granite Gear packs mentioned above), I’ve often felt like the weight was pulling me over backward and that there wasn’t a good way to stabilize it up and over my hips. The tall frame and extensive 1” webbing and buckles of the Cirque 6200 allow for a remarkably secure positioning of heavy loads.
Overall, I haven’t used any pack that offers the comfortable weight carrying capacity of the Stone Glacier in such a lightweight pack, and I would say that this alone is one of the greatest reasons to buy one of these packs. I haven’t encountered anything quite like it.
After using the very nice and super light HMG packs, it’s hard not to develop an affinity for packs made of Cuben Fiber or Dyneema which are superlight, superstrong, and highly water-resistant materials.
I appreciate the addition of the Xpac material on the bottom and frame on the Stone Glacier, and I wonder about the pack weight and capability of a Stone Glacier Pack made with a Dyneema/Cuben Fiber or Xpac main bag. If they ever made one, it could be a cool pack. That said, Cordura 500 is a relatively standard pack material because it is durable, dries quickly, is relatively soft and quiet in the hand, and is less expensive. I also think that the Cordura holds up a little better to certain kinds of abrasion than Cuben Fiber, and might last longer overall for someone using the packs frequently. The biggest downside the Cordura 500 aside from some increased weight is that, compared to the other materials mentioned, it will eventually soak up a fair amount of water in sustained wet conditions, temporarily increasing the overall pack weight.
As for the rest of the pack and the construction in general, my Stone Glacier packs have held up to quite a bit of abuse and still look and function essentially like new. Many of the summer trips I do involve extensive bushwhacking in and around river valleys, where heavy packs are dragged and pulled through all kinds of alder, rocks, trees, and brush. At times it gets pretty frustrating, and I end up just jerking and tugging to break my way through big tangles of branches. Doing thing like that has resulted in more than a few torn pack straps and bags in the past, but I’ve had no issues at all with the Stone Glacier packs. I’ve even tossed my fully-loaded Cirque down short slopes a few times so I could more easily downclimb, and it is no worse for the experience.
Versatility & Weight
At just over 4 lbs, my Cirque 6200 is a couple of pounds lighter than my ski touring airbag pack, and almost the same weight as my non-airbag ski pack so the weight isn’t a factor in using it for a daypack or for shorter trips when the massive weight carrying capacity isn’t needed. While on ski trips and hunting/hiking trips, I’ve spent many days with the pack in “bivy mode” and find that it cinches down very nicely — even when almost totally empty — and moves easily with my body. The only downside to this is that the relatively tall, stiff frame which makes it such a great load hauler does make it feel a little restrictive and stiff when bending over to wiggle through tight spots, or for more technical climbing. It’s easy to get used to, but the pack doesn’t vanish on my back with a light load like the HMG packs or most lightweight day packs. Aside from this, it would be easy to consider the Cirque 6200 as a great all-around pack for anyone who wants one pack to do everything from day hikes to extended expeditions.
NEXT: Access, Accessories, Etc.